When used properly, sport is an incredible source of lessons that any one of any age can apply back into life… be it business, profession, relationships, academia, the performing arts, or back into another athletic event; sport truly is a playground of insight when we allow it to be.
This was the case at the Tour of Pelham for my daughter Serena. Now, this lesson wasn’t self evident immediately after the event, nor was it even evident to Serena… it took an individual (and in this case a parent/coach) to review the event, seeking to extract all lessons that both my daughter and son could apply later on. For Serena this was her first road race, her first Tour of anything and it ended up being quite the experience. First she went off course, then she went off course again, then while riding in the mountain bike/off road section of the course a non competitor (i.e. a cyclist also out on the trails but clearly unaware that there was a race going on) crashed into her. The crash wasn’t so bad that either suffered any injury or damage to equipment but a crash is a crash and it shakes you up no matter what. Serena figured out either on her own or with the help of other competitors how to carry on and she finished the event.
I knew something was up when I saw Serena mid-race (the race course looped by the start/finish line at the Merrittville Speedway): she didn’t seem herself, she looked tight on her bike, her shoulders up, she wasn’t relaxed, she wasn’t in her typical race mode. But, she didn’t complain, she didn’t ask to drop out, she didn’t stop, she didn’t quit, she didn’t give any hint to any of the above experiences. She simply carried on with the task at hand.
The lesson came to me later on that day when Serena stated that she received an email from her summer school teacher (Serena is working to get ahead this summer by taking an online course) which listed the upcoming assignments that were due and that they were due in two days! Serena tried to login to the course but was unable to, and emailed the teacher to advise them of the issue.
Serena was in a bit of a panic. Having assignments due but unable to access them online with the deadline for submission approaching was not the scenario Serena wanted to be in, nor planned to be in.
And that’s when the lesson from the Tour of Pelham became apparent to me…
In the Tour, Serena had setbacks, several and significant setbacks. What athlete wants to go off course, losing time to competitors, potentially losing positions, maybe even losing their opportunity for a podium finish? No athlete, yet despite the setbacks Serena not only finished the event, she stood on the podium because she finished 2nd in the U19 (under 19) category.
I shared with Serena… look what happens when you train so much that you have so much skill, so much capacity, so much spare reserve that you can bounce back from a setback! You can go off course and you can be in a crash but neither writes the closing paragraph.
What a lesson for a teenager!
Imagine being a teenager and realizing that you can make a mistake, an error, maybe even one that seems to write the closing paragraph for a chapter in your life, but then being able to pull on the memory… hey, I’ve been here before… I’ve had setbacks before, they don’t write the end, its how I respond from those setbacks, how I respond during the setback that determines the end.
Imagine being a teenager and knowing that you already made a mistake – went off course – and then you had a mistake happen to you – someone crashed into you, of no fault of your own – and instead of panicking, choking, balling up, or using it as an excuse, or claiming to be a victim, claiming it was unfair… you decided to carry on to write the final chapter they way you want the story to finish.
Imagine being a teenager who had put in substantial training believing her parents/coaches that there was a point to it all, but never really knowing for herself that there was a point… and then having the opportunity to realize the benefit to having so much skill, so much capacity, so much reserve that when something happens it doesn’t have to be an ending. Stuff happening is a reality of being alive… by being prepared, you open the option of prevailing irrespective of whatever stuff does happen.
This is the real value of sport in the life of your children. Its not the podiums, the medals or ribbons, the qualifications they earn… its what happened along the way, what they overcame in order to achieve. The real lesson is in the decisions they make along the way… the decisions, typically the hard decision to press on.
If all you or the coach of your children is pushing is for results, then your children will leave sport disillusioned by what it all meant. They will not piece together all the lessons from sport, they will not benefit from all the experiences that they did have in sport… because they will think it was just for some silly piece of plastic or metal that hung around their neck for a brief moment.
Bring significance to their challenges, to what they had to achieve in the process, who they became, what they experienced along the way… and your children may never want to quit sport, and when it does come time to move on, they will take with them memories and experiences that will serve them in their adult lives. Sport is supposed to build children into confident individuals by offering them a playground where they experience highs and lows, and learn how to move ahead or bounce back from both. Give your children this benefit of sport. Forego comparing and judging your children against others, forego assessing them against the standards sports associations and federations impose on children, forego measuring your child’s potential by how they start.
After sharing with Serena this lesson, it dawned on her that there was little reason to panic with the school assignments: she already communicated with the teacher explaining her predicament. The final paragraph to this series of events was not already written, the final chapter would be over when she decided it was over, no different than how she decided how she would finish the Tour of Pelham. Serena was able to end the day calm, no longer phased by the situation, at peace realizing that it was her response to the situation – not the situation itself – that would dictate the outcome.